Microsoft Makes Big Internet Research Play

Microsoft announced a major investment and ambitious research effort with today’s announcement of Live Labs, a partnership between its MSN online division and Microsoft Research.

Live Labs has a broad charter, but one of its goals is to use researchers from Microsoft’s various technology groups to leverage Internet technologies and speed them to market as products.

The lab will focus on pre-existing Microsoft projects, including the acceleration of Windows Live offerings, the company said in a statement.

Microsoft also announced a more concerted effort to reach out to academic researchers. Beyond its ongoing collaboration with universities, Live Labs will offer grants, sabbaticals, internships and fellowships.

For starters, Live Labs will make a total of $500,000 available through a new request for proposals to encourage academic research in data mining, discovery and analysis. Proposals can be submitted through March 24, and 10 to 14 awards, ranging from $35,000 to $50,000, will be granted.

Live Labs will be based in Microsoft Research’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters and led by Gary Flake, a former Yahoo research head Microsoft hired last year.

While Microsoft has been criticized for being a laggard in some areas of Internet development –- even by its own executives –- Flake is bullish on Live Lab’s prospects.

“It will be the pre-eminent applied research laboratory for Internet technologies,” Flake said in a statement. “This is a very exciting opportunity for researchers and technologists to have an immediate impact on the next evolution of Microsoft’s Internet products and services…”

Live Labs will also have an advisory board headed by Microsoft’s chief technical officers Ray Ozzie, Craig Mundie and David Vaskevitch.

Ozzie said he expects Live Labs to help fast-track Microsoft research from the lab into people’s hands.

In a related development, Microsoft also announced a new organization called Search Labs that will be focused on areas such as personalization, socialization and improved user experiences while maintaining privacy.

Search Labs will have offices at Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters and its Mountain View, Calif. facility. Search Labs will be headed by Microsoft general manager Ashok Chandra.

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